Monday, August 23, 2010

Murders, Lies and Mischievousness in the Land of Multiple Standards

The dilemma when you are a government agency faced with a hugely embarrassing situation is to do or not to do a press conference. Both options have their advantages and drawbacks. Speaking to the medias breaks a choking silence, but then you have to provide some substantial details to feed the hunger of journalists. Not speaking to the media allow you to avoid compromising yourself, but then you look uncooperative.

The DSI, the “Thai FBI” as we say, chose to speak to the medias. The problem is that they had nothing to tell them on the topic announced : the circumstances of the deaths of 91 people during the April May Red shirts demonstrations, among them two foreign journalists, video reporter Hiroyuki Muramoto and Italian photographer Fabio Polenghi.
From the start, the elegant Naras announced that the “investigations on both foreigners deaths “were not yet complete” and that he could not provide any information. This investigation has begun more than four months ago for Hiroyuki and three months ago for Fabio. Fabio forensic report was written on 21th of May, two days after his death.
How is it possible that the DSI still does not have any details on the cases ? What have they done during these last months ? Well, they surely were busy chasing “terrorists” who have burnt to the ground Central World department store and arresting Red shirts demonstrators here and there. Fair enough, but what about the many families who lost some relatives in the massacre ? Are not they worth the DSI attention ?

Coming to Fabio Polenghi's case, Khun Naras gave actually a new piece of information : “we could not find the bullet who killed him in his body, and so we have no idea of the kind of caliber”, he said. Well, it surely makes everything simpler. No bullets, no identification of the possible shooter, no headache. “Lack of evidence” will be the final word, and don't count on the Italian embassy to push the case.

Actually, according to a reliable source, the DSI is not to be blamed. They are also “victims”, pressured between the medias, especially Foreign medias but also increasing Thai medias, and the military-led CRES who does not want to face the fact that their men shot at demonstrators and journalists. For them, the still mysterious “men in black” are responsible for most of the violence. To support this thesis, they, for instance, said that the Cable TV building on Rajdamri road, less than thirty meters from the spot where Fabio, hit by a bullet, collapsed at 11:58 am on the 19th of May, was on that day a stronghold of the Black shirts. We checked and it is simply not true, at least according to the building manager and his security staff who were occupying the building without any interruption on the 19th of May. “The soldiers came around 2.30 pm, forcing the doors to look for Red shirts and Black shirts. They could not find anyone”, he says. Nevertheless, according to a Foreign journalist accompanying the military on Rajdamri at this time of the day said that he saw a few men in black being arrested by the military a few meters from the building.

So we are left with this : the CRES is giving the tone and no government agency is authorized to give any information unless cleared by the CRES first. And the circumstances of the killing of both Hiroyuki Muramoto and Fabio Polenghi are apparently embarrassing enough for the army to launch a major cover up operation. The Thai army is far from being the only army in the world to shy away from its own misdeeds. Just remember Tyler, in Afghanisthan, whose death by “friendly fire”, was only accepted publicly by the US military after the press exposed the case.

This cover up strategy is bound to backfire, as the more the army is trying to create a smokescreen, the more suspicion within the country and in the international community will raise. The Thai military, formatted by a mindset frozen some forty of fifty years ago, have always had a hard time to comprehend their rapidly modernizing country. But this time, because of the explosion of social medias and the greater difficulty to control public opinion, the soldiers are definitely out in the cold.

Arnaud Dubus (in Bangkok)

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